Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty blackbird./Tom Berriman

General: Rusty blackbirds breed in boreal and Acadian spruce-fir forests across Canada, northern New England, and New York State. They build their nests in dense young or stunted conifers in or near shallow wetlands such as swamps amd bogs, and on the edges of lakes, streams, and beaver ponds. These birds get their name from their fall and early winter plumage, when their dark feathers are edged with rusty brown. In spring and summer, males are glossy black and females are a silvery slate grey. Both sexes have pale yellow eyes. During the breeding season, aquatic insects form the bulk of the diet. Rusty blackbirds migrate to the southern states in winter, where they use a variety of habitats from wooded wetlands to flooded roadside ditches, wet pastures, farm fields, and even lawns. Seeds and berries make up a large part of the winter diet.

Status: The rusty blackbird population has shown chronic long-term and acute short-term declines based on surveys conducted on both the breeding and wintering ranges. Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count suggest that rusty blackbird numbers have fallen by 85 to 95 percent since the mid-1900s. Loss of wintering habitat in the southern states due to agriculture and development, and the loss of boreal wetlands to climate-change-induced drying may be contributing to the decline.
How to Help Rusty Blackbirds: Prime nesting habitat in the northern breeding range includes forested wetlands with stunted softwoods and softwood stands growing back following floods, fires, or timber-harvesting activities near shallow wetlands. Rusty blackbirds nest in young forest stands from less than an acre in area to more than 100 acres. In managed forests of northern New England, the majority of nests are in stands of up to 20 acres. Scattered live or dead overstory trees provide important perch sites in nesting stands.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

For more information, see the website of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group. An account of this species, including references to scientific papers, appears in the downloadable Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest. This publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within this species' range to increase your chances of seeing rusty blackbirds and other wildlife that use young forest.